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News.bytesNews.bytes Extra, issue 392

"Free Spirit" turns 30

Art DiGrazia, operations manager for BLM's Ridgecrest Regional Wild Horse and Burro Corrals, recently opened an email from a woman who adopted a wild horse almost 30 years ago:

Hi Art,

A recent photo of Free SpiritI adopted a Wild Horse in October 1980 from the Camp Pendleton facility.  He was originally captured by the Forest Service in the area of Mt Shasta. It took you 2 hours to get him in the trailer.

You asked me if I had selected a name for him during the ordeal.  I told you he would be called Free Spirit, to which you responded, "Appropriate name!"  You told me he was not a mean horse, just very scared. You also said he would take time and patience to handle. That he did!  Although totally blind in the right eye, he went into training as a 3-day event horse.  We learned to trust each other.

At age 6, he was diagnosed with a cataract in the left eye.  His vision was not the best for jumping and the concern of him or me getting seriously hurt had to be considered. So we stopped jumping and continued with dressage training.

Free Spirit and rider take a jumpOn a trail ride one day, Spirit decided to start jumping over logs rather than step over or go around. He was also getting disinterested in the dressage training.  He liked variety. Under the careful guidance of our trainer, we went back to jumping (not cross country).  I learned to listen to him. As his eyesight worsened, I adjusted how and what I asked of him.  That trust led to success in the show ring in both hunter/jumper and dressage. At age 20, he retired from jumping.

I moved to the back country of Alpine, California 5 years ago, where Spirit now lives with me.  He lost his right eye due to an infection many years ago.

The vets think he has little to no vision out of his left eye and he cannot see in the dark at all.  However, he finds his way to his feeder and water in his 1/3 acre pasture.  He confidently roams around the property to eat his fill of flowers and green grass.  We still go on long trail rides and he loves to be the first one up the hills. My two wolf dogs are his constant companions and playmates. They are comical to watch as Spirit is the instigator in many playtimes -- grabs the tail of one wolf dog and the chase is on.

Danielle gives Free Spirit a kiss in this photo from a few years agoFree Spirit's story was published in the California Horse Review magazine in May, June, and July 1983 and also December 1985.  He has been featured on San Diego's local news stations - Channel 8, August 1985 & January 1989; Channel 10, April 1989. As well, he was featured in two local newspaper publications.

He is respected, admired, and loved by all that have had the privilege of knowing him. Every trainer we have had has been impressed with his intelligence.

Spirit just turned 30! I continue to be humbled by this magnificent animal.  He has taught me invaluable lessons and he has reminded me of my courage.  I wake every morning to a 'bow stretch' and a nicker from him.  I remain in awe of him and am still learning from him. Our bond is like no other I have had with a horse.

Thank you, Art!  You were instrumental in helping me pick this Wild Horse. I have attached a recent photo of Free Spirit. (Danielle also forwarded some photos of Free Spirit from his earlier, jumping days.)

I would love to adopt another wild horse but it would have to be a very young horse because Spirit gets nervous around older horses in the pasture with him.  I think his blindness creates an unpredictable situation for him. He loves babies, though--when he was at a boarding facility, the babies were always brought to him. Instinct would take over and he became 'colt or filly' sitter. However, the opportunity to get a 'youngster' has not arisen.

Danielle Belliveau
Alpine, CA

Art adds:  "I do remember the horse and how scared the animal was all those years ago, I'm glad the program and the horse has had a positive effect on Danielle's life.

"I receive a number of letters each month about how these GREAT animals have had life changing experiences for folks, whether it be someone who has cancer or another who has a bonding with their animal . I have been the lucky one to meet these folks and share a little of their story."

Below: Danielle and Free Spirit at last weekend's BLM wild horse and burro adoption event in Lakeside.  Danielle is holding a BLM Golden Anniversary commemorative medallion presented to her by Art DiGrazia.
Woman holds a box with a medallion inside, as horse stands next to her
photo by Dave Briery, BLM-California Desert District

BLM-California News.bytes, issue 392

Last updated: 07-22-2009